Mount St. Joseph tops Gwynedd Mercy to stay unbeaten

SPRINGFIELD >> After trailing by as many as 16 points in the first half, Gwynedd Mercy came on strong after the break, pressing rival Mount St. Joseph into mistakes and trimming down the deficit with the inside play of Erica DeCandido.

But the Magic persevered through the turbulence and then pulled away, nailing down a 50-43 victory in a battle of unbeatens at packed Mount St. Joseph Saturday.

“Once it started getting closer and closer, I wouldn’t say I was worried, but I knew I had to pick it up a little bit,” said Magic guard Caitlin Cunningham, who will play at Philadelphia University next year. “We knew we had to work the ball around more and break the press better. And I think our defense really just pulled us through.”

Cunningham, directing the Mount offense and contributing 14 points in the Catholic Academies League contest, calmed her team down and helped lead the way in the fourth quarter. Her pullup jumper along the baseline stretched the margin to 45-33 early in the period before GMA (4-1, 2-1 league) responded with a 6-0 run, which included a steal and breakaway layup by DeCandido (game-high 18 points).

But the Magic (8-0, 3-0 league), owning a 16-6 advantage in foul shots, made just enough of them (6-of-16) to provide a cashion in the final moments. Cunningham, 3-of-4 from the line, calmly sank a pair with about a minute to play, icing the game at 49-39.

“Since they beat us last year in the second matchup (32-26 at GMA), we knew we had to stay focused,” said Cunningham, whose team split the regular-season series with Gwynedd last year, winning 48-43 at home.

The Magic were rolling early, hitting back-to-back three pointers in the opening seconds to quickly jump out 6-0. Sarah Wills, scoring a team-high 15 points for Mount, hit a pair of threes in the first quarter and another in the second to help the Magic build a commanding lead.

Mount would connect for 10 three-pointers.

A three by Cunningham boosted the margin to double digits for the first time, at 18-8. Mount would build its advantage to 24-8 before Gwynedd, getting eight points from Danielle Senour and another seven from Carly Heineman and Brigit Coleman, trimmed the difference to 26-12 by the half.

The Monarchs closed to within five in the third and six early in the fourth but could not get closer.

“We just didn’t come out with the energy that we needed to come out with,” said GMA coach Tom Lonergan, whose team travels to Villa Maria Tuesday while Mount hosts Sacred Heart. “We put ourselves in a hole, and you can’t get yourself in a hole against a very good team.”

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